Gabriel Russo – Icon

This week my CCA Craft Lab class had the pleasure of visiting and, more importantly, playing in the studio my old friend and esteemed artisan and designer Gabriel Russo.

Gabriel is an incredibly talented and experienced clothing pattern-maker and designer with decades of industry experience in New York, LA and the Bayarea. He produces his own clothing lines in his densely packed studio in Richmond. You can read his tales of a life lived in the rag trade on his blog. Scott Constable wrote about Gabriel on his Deep Craft blog a few months ago – you can read that post here. The folks at  Artidocs are compiling a great video that captures a hint of his humor and style – here’s a preview.


We were at Gabriel’s to tap his knowledge and love for Indigo – that mysterious and spectacular dyestuff that is so much a part of Indian, Japanese, and West African culture. Craft Lab is developing a performance dyeing event for CCA’s Craft Forward conference to be held at CCA over the forthcoming first weekend of April. I plan to post about both the conference and our event over the weekend.

Gabriel revealed some of the strange properties of natural indigo dye and then let us loose is in his studio where we experimented with dyeing paper, wood, wool, porcelain, threads and all sorts of woven fabrics. We want to entrap text on either paper or fabric at our event so we tried a variety of resist techniques including, tying, selective dipping, wax and sewing as well as writing directly onto fabric with the dye. We did everything we could think of – all at once. Gabriel was very tolerant as we went berserk in his space.

In the moments between we wandered around his densely layered studio and enjoyed his tools, artifacts, clothing, assemblages and good taste in music.

Gabriel with indigo dyed hands and matching jacket with pocket pattern stitch resist.

Indigo brew

Healthy bloom on the dyepot - ready for action

Let's see what's in the pot? Carol Koffel and Johanna Friedman look on.

Gabriel and Johanna talking shop

Some of Gabriel's men's clothing racked and ready for his next sale.

Paper patterns


Tools of the trade - huge pelican shears on the gramophone

Dyed thread at that moment when the fresh green dye oxidizes to blue

Samples drying in the sun

Its hard not to wax poetic

Paper loves indigo

Stitch resist samples

Its always such a pleasure being in another artisan’s studio, learning new techniques and  talking story.

Thank you Gabriel for opening the doors!

Lines – A Brief History by Tim Ingold

I read an eye opening book over the last few days thanks to the recommendation of Helen Carnac.

Lines - A Brief History by Tim Ingold

Its rare for me to describe a book of theory as a ‘page turner’. Very rare! But this is one.

Professor Ingold, Scottish professor of social anthropology, takes us on an anything but brief journey through the cultural history of humankind exploring ‘the interface between anthropology, archaeology, art and architecture’. Arguing along the way for the centrality of the line in human culture; as the wellspring of drawing, writing, music and wayfaring. He refines some widely used but until now poorly defined terms such as trace and thread – making the wonderfully esoteric but clearly argued assertion that ‘Threads may be transformed into traces, and traces into threads. It is through the transformation of threads into traces … that surfaces are bought into being. And conversely, it is through the transformation of traces into threads that surfaces are dissolved.’

He also coins the useful term ‘meshwork’ in contrast to ‘network’ – a web of interconnected pathways as opposed to a series of links connecting distinct hubs.

Along the way there are some wonderful yarns, propositions and perspectives. Such as, ‘old Khanty stoytellers would keep going in the evenings until everyone else was asleep, so that no one would ever know how their stories really finished’ – sounds like one of my classes at CCA! Quoting Bayarea icon and theorist of wandering Rebecca Solnit ‘To write is to carve a new path through the terrain of the imagination, or to point out new features on a familiar route. To read is to travel through that terrain with the author as a guide … I have often wished that my sentences could be written out as a single line running into the distance so that it would be clear that the sentence is likewise a road and reading is travelling.’

It is this vibrant, hand drawn, visceral and physical line that Ingold argues has provided and marked our pathway through existence. The line that, as Kandinsy said, ‘goes for a walk’.

The final chapter is entitled ‘How the line became straight’ – love the double meaning. Ingold argues that by constraining and restricting the line from the hand drawn trace to the straightly ruled (and ruled over) connector we lose something essential, something existential.

Highly recommended if you are interested in language, writing, calligraphy, music, singing, map making, pathfinding, drawing, weaving, reading or wandering. That sounds like everyone I know!

DesignCraft Hero!

Regina Connell the auteur of one of my go to blogs Handful of Salt featured me as one of her DesignCraft Heroes this week. I’m honored.

Its also been very rewarding having so many people respond so sweetly to the post. I feel like I’ve been able to attend my own wake without paying the usual price. Nice!

Thanks Regina!!

Me and Nico - I'm glad one of us is getting some wooodwork done!


It doesn’t get more primal than this!

At least not for me. Having grown up on the South Coast of New South Wales, an hour or so South of Sydney, the sound of the surf was like being in my mother’s womb – I’d guess. The constant susurration. The sense of immense strength, barely restrained and not very far away.

My nightmares were mostly precursed by the sucking out of the ocean from the beach; stranding creatures and exposing the bones of the ocean.

Then the knowledge that you had not much time to get as high and as far as possible from the inevitable surge.

At least then I was living at about 15m (45ft) above sea level at the edge of a cliff facing the ocean with good solid Sydney Sandstone behind me. Now I’m living on the faltlands of an estuary mostly composed of land-fill, on a renowned subduction zone, facing Japan on the other side of the Pacific. My height above sea level now is 2m (6ft)!!!!

I might as well tie an anchor around my neck now!

Sendai is a good town!

And Matsushima is an international heritage site!

My hear truly aches (at its core) for the suffering in Japan.

“Waves at Matsushima” by Ogata Kôrin

Syoin Kajii - image

Japanese Earthquake Tsunami rolls up a mile from my home!

This is pretty amazing.

After travelling 5,000 miles and going through the narrow gap of the Golden Gate, there is still a defined wave washing up on the East Bay.

A little ripple with a 5,000 mile radius. Imagine the wave at its source!

There has even been one fatality here – a spectator washed out to sea at Crescent City, NorCal.

YouTube – Japanese Earthquake Tsunami Wave hits Emeryville.

The Paramount Theater

Last Friday, I had the rare and delightful pleasure of attending the Paramount Theater in downtown Oakland for a viewing of Alfred Hitchcock’s brilliant movie The Birds. The Paramount is a classic Deco movie palace that has been lovingly and painstakingly restored to its former splendor. They now open it up for music performances, classic movie nights and back stage tours. I remember seeing Bjork perform here as well as Mariza – both awesome concerts! My favorite events to enjoy at the Paramount are their classic movie nights. They only have about 10 screenings per year, so its a rare and special event. You can find the schedule here!

It's a treat approaching the Paramount with its bank of colorful neon.

"Walk like an Egyptian"

"Always the best show in town"

You can read a detailed history of the Paramount here. In short, construction was started in 1930 at the height of the Art Deco movement’s international reach and when completed, it was one of the largest movie palaces on the west coast of the US. The designer was the well known San Francisco architect Timothy Pflueger who was also responsible for the Castro and Alhambra movie palaces in San Francisco, the Bal Tabarin (now Bimbo’s 365 Club on Columbus Ave.) and was one of the architects on the team which designed the Golden Gate International Exposition (1939-40).

Quoting from the Paramount website –

Timothy Pflueger was credited by one professional journal as “responsible for the work of more sculptors and mural painters in his buildings than any other western architect .” (Architect and Engineer, June 1941, p. 19) He engaged the most famous muralist of the time, the Mexican Diego Rivera (1886-1957), to paint “The Wealth of California” for the San Francisco Stock Exchange, and Rivera later identified Pflueger’s most original concept as his use of the fine arts in his buildings. “The group he gathered about him achieved a success in expressing their individual vision of American Society in a harmony which included the architectonics of the building.” (Rivera, My Art, My Life) Pflueger and Rivera were boon companions during the latter’s stay in San Francisco from 1930 to 1934, and while Rivera was not directly responsible for the facade mosaic of the Paramount Theatre, his influence may be seen in the majestic monumentality of the two figures in it as well as in its use of earth colors.

[Illustration from a detail of Rivera’s The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City, San Francisco Art Institute. Rivera is seated on the middle of the scafolding with his back to the viewer and the trio below him includes Paramount Theatre architect Timothy Pflueger.]

The sculpted plaster panels lining the interior of the the theater are exquisite

As is the ceiling lighting system of cookie cutter style sheet metal patterns.

To top of all this architectural sumptuousness, there is the MAIN FEATURE!


Before the main feature there’s the mighty Wurlitzer organ, the glamorous game of luck and chance ‘Dec-O-Win’, with fabulous prizes to be won, the Movietone News, and an original Warner Bros. cartoon with the first ever appearance of Tweetie Bird! (a subtle reference to the main feature and perhaps to that other famous blonde ingenue bird Tippi Hedron (Tippi/Tweetie)).

The fabulous Dec-O-Win

But then finally the titles roll……

All you need is popcorn!

"Tippi, look behind you!!!"

What a great Bayarea event – from beleaguered Bodega Bay to glamorous Oakland!

When Sculptors Craft – the Journal of Modern Craft

When sculptors craft

“How comfortably does craft fit within the history and practice of sculpture? Why is the crafted essence of sculpting so often ignored? And, more positively, what ideas and narratives about sculpture might be generated by accounting for it in terms of craft?”

This is the tagline for the Journal of Modern Craft‘s online forum dedicated to discussing the latest volume of this important peer reviewed journal of contemporary craft. I am a guest blogger for the on-line journal currently and have just posted my first response. Please click over to the blog (by clicking on the underlined link above), read the entries and some pdf’s of current journal articles, and join in the discussion.

More to follow!

Cecile Johnson Soliz finishing Warm, a sculpture that functions as a wood-burning stove, in Castellamonte, Italy, 2007.